Helping Women Understand Gender Differences and Their Role in a Relationship

Gender Differences and Their Role in a Relationship

Although men and women are more alike than they are different, the ways they differ can make romantic relationships hard to navigate.

Sarah shares in marriage counseling that her husband Dave does not support or listen to her.

“I come home from a stressful day at work and just want to vent. All I get from him is that I should have handled a problem differently or I should quit my job. I regret telling him anything.”

She reached out to her husband in hopes of, in return, getting some sympathy and validation; she wanted to feel heard. In general, women might by nature be more relational and find more relief in conversations in which emotions are shared. Because it comes more naturally to them, they may take this for granted and feel it should be the same for men. On the other hand, men, for the most part, want to solve the problem.

Men and women approach issues differently

It might not make it much less frustrating for Sarah and other women with similar conflicts to understand but there are likely biological differences, influenced by evolution, between the genders that help explain these differences and it might be less a matter of choice.

Men and women approach issues differently and attempting to figure out an answer to ease their partner’s stress may be the best or only way a man knows to try to offer support and let his partner know he cares. Women may have to help their male counterpart by letting them know what kind of support they are looking for.

One can preface their concerns with something like:

“I really just need to vent and would really appreciate if you could just listen”


“It has been a particularly tough day; I need a hug”.

Sometimes a female may be looking for advice; if so, they can let him know.

Gender differences

Another common issue encountered during couples counseling is girlfriends/wives voicing concern that they bring up what bothers them, their boyfriends/husbands are receptive enough to change, but the changes are short-lived. Part of the problem that is discovered is that the females do not show their appreciation, possibly having the perspective that they should not have to praise what they feel their partner should already be doing. Acknowledgment of effort can be a big reinforcer. One can help motivate them to want to continue the behavior by being sure they know they notice and are grateful.

Another gender difference that can be problematic in relationships is how disagreements are handled and conflict resolution styles.

Gender differences


Steve shares that when things are getting heated;

“I just want some distance and need some time by myself to get my head on straight”. He reports his wife, Lori, seems to want to stay engaged in the conflict and hash it out. “Even when things have calmed down, she still wants to talk things through but I just want to move on”.

Men are typically more likely to shut down when there is conflict due to becoming more easily overwhelmed by emotion. Females in response may feel they need to up their game by becoming more loud or expressive in attempt to get a reaction, adding fuel to the fire. This information can help her understand his need for space in such times. In my experience, males have a harder time seeing the value in finding resolution to the matter after intensity of interaction lessens. Perhaps they fear a return of emotion if the issue is revisited. As the female in the relationship, one may need to help their partner see the value in calmly working the issue through in order to prevent the same or similar issue from continuing to contribute to fights.

Variations in the way men and women interpret criticism

Although both may get defensive, men seem to do so somewhat more frequently or intensely. Keeping this in mind, a female may want to be more mindful to be gentle in their approach and attempt to keep criticism to a minimum.

Such differences as those mentioned in this article will be present to varying degrees in relationships. It is possible for them to be overcome, particularly if one attempts to acknowledge and understand them. (Please note, if there is abuse in the relationship, further assistance should be sought). Couples counseling can help partners explore and reduce the impact of these variances.

**The names and stories in this article do not represent actual people. The various differences mentioned are generalities and based mostly on the author’s clinical encounters working with couples.

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Rita Hansen
Mental Health, LPC, QMHP, LAC
Rita Hansen, LPC has 15 years of experience in the mental health and addictions field; she has worked in several settings and with clients with various concerns. Through her private practice in Sioux Falls, SD, she works with older children, adolescents, adults and couples. She strives to meet each client/couple where they are at and provide them a chance to be truly heard and understood. Although she most often approaches therapy from a CBT perspective, she also utilizes motivational interviewing, solution-focused and client-centered techniques.

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